The World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play last week proved just how unpredictable the format can be.
Even though Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan and eventual champion Matt Kuchar are three of the best exponents of the mano-a-mano format and they made up three of the four semi-finalists, the tournament lost the two top-ranked players — Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods — in the first round and the top five seeds by the end of the second round, when Luke Donald, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose were also knocked out.
With some of the top stars out before the tournament got into the weekend, there was bound to be talks of whether match play is indeed the format that the first WGC event of the season should have. The critics argue that, because of its fickle nature, there is every possibility that the last couple of rounds are devoid of big names, which would result in lower TV ratings.
Of course, Woods and McIlroy are two of the best golfers in the world and you’d want them to be contending for the title on a Sunday. But if that was the sole objective, then you are better off watching an exhibition event like the one they had in Lake Jinsha last year. The Match Play field comprised the top-64 ranked players in the world, and each one of them need to be respected as worthy champions if they have gone through six gruelling rounds.
Match play has its own peculiarities. Unlike strokeplay tournaments, you can actually play eight very bad holes but still end up winner if you somehow did better than your opponent in the other 10 holes. And of course guys like Shane Lowry, who took out McIlroy in the opening round, have a great chance of creating an upset. All they need is to get hot on the golf course one day, or their star rival to have a slightly off day.
Personally, I am a great fan of the match play format. It is the way golf was intended to be played when the game was invented — one player against another. In fact, the history of the game suggests that the concept of ‘par’ and terms like birdies, eagles and bogeys came almost centuries later. Otherwise, all that mattered in the beginning was that you beat your opponent on the particular hole by taking as many shots, as long as it is one less than the other player. There is a lot more thinking needed out there on the golf course in match play as compared to strokeplay.
On the European Tour, we are playing the inaugural Tshwane Open this week in Centurion, South Africa. After the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, I had three weeks of break (although I did play a city-based franchise event in India) and I am eager to get back into competition mode. I haven’t yet seen the golf course at the time of writing this, but I believe that the Ernie Els-designed Copperleaf course is a beauty. Let’s see how well it suits me!
— Jeev Milkha Singh is a four-time champion on the European Tour